The real answer to this question is “it’s complicated,” but Lauren breaks down the current research and evidence for you.
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I’m Lauren, this is BrainStuff, and our question today is “Does soy cause cancer?” I wanna be awkwardly straightforward here: The answer is “it’s complicated”. But I’m gonna break down the current research and evidence for you.
First, let’s talk about soy. It’s pretty cheap to cultivate because it yields a lot of edible stuff per acre.
You can cook and eat soybeans, of course, but you can also process them into soy sauce, miso paste, soy oil, soy milk, tofu, fat-free soy meal and etc., or even isolate out particular compounds.
Each type of soy product has (obviously) different nutritional properties. So saying that soy as a whole “does” anything is treading on shaky ground.
But! One of the things that soy can do is act like estrogen in your body. That’s because soybeans contain particles called isoflavones, which are chemically similar to estrogens. They’re less potent than estrogen, but similar enough that isoflavones can fit into cellular receptors that were designed for estrogen.
For example, breast tissue cells contain estrogen receptors. And sometimes, when a li’l chunk of estrogen locks into one of those receptors, it causes a chain reaction that encourages cancerous tumor growth.
But isoflavones can block it from happening! If isoflavones get to those receptors first, the estrogen can’t lock in and set off the tumorous reaction.
Isoflavones can also spur cells to produce a protein that binds to free-roaming estrogen in your body, meaning it has a hard time locking into receptors. And isoflavones can even prevent estrogen from forming in fat tissue the first place.
So eating soy food products may help prevent some cancer. And yes, research backs this up. In medical studies following large populations of women for many years, eating a variety of soy stuff as part of your normal diet has been found to either have no association with breast cancer or sometimes to protect against it.
Now, there are laboratory studies with mice and rats that have linked cancer specifically to two types of soy protein isolates and to high doses of isoflavones.
But mice are not men.
We need more research to determine whether the same link is present in humans, and if so, at what levels of consumption. Important note: The soy isolates used in these studies aren’t what go into our food – though they are similar to soy supplement pills.
There are so many factors involved in diet and lifestyle and cancer. It’s nigh impossible to link any food to cancer definitively at our current level of knowledge.
But basically, science says that it’s safe to eat a moderate amount of soy products, cancerwise. You just probably shouldn’t take soy supplements until we learn more about how they affect us.
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